Every good conversation includes a negotiation of some kind. Think of a recent conversation you had and find the negotiation. Write down the conversation as you remember it–or make one up. Try not to let it devolve into an argument. We are going for something more subtle here.
Diversity makes stories better, plain and simple. This year, we’ve partnered with the good folks at Writing With Color to get some advice on how to write stories populated with people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. In this post, founder Colette Aburimegives advice on how to begin incorporating diversity into your writing:
When you write with racial and ethnic diversity, you hear a lot about what to avoid. Now, it’s not without good reason. The road to good representation is paved with harmful stereotypes and worn-out depictions of People of Color. Advice-givers, like me and the rest of the folks at WritingwithColor, put up caution signs and leave the rest of the journey up to you.
Still, there are some do’s that make for both good writing and good representation.
Writers tend to think big. Our craft demands that we keep our brains fired up with ideas.
I’m asking you to think small.
You wouldn’t set out to climb Mount Everest your first day as a climber. No way – you’d train first! It’d take loads of exercise, you might scale some indoor climbing walls, and perhaps stock up on wisdom to apply to your own form.
When approaching topics you have little experience with, no need to go the biggest you can go from the start. Train before tackling the full-length novel or dealing heavily in tough topics like racism. Start with a hill, not the mountain.
Benefits of starting small:
Smoother writing process. The writing process can be a bit stop-and-go if you’re, say, constantly checking that your Black character descriptions are on the right track. You’ll feel more focused if you’ve described Black characters countless times before. Get the stumbling out on the training grounds.
More confidence as a writer. The stakes of writing a group outside of your own can feel like mountains looming overhead. The more practice you have, even from writing snippets and scenes, the more confident you’ll become.
Better representation. With all that practice prose in, combined with research and feedback, your diverse writing will only get better. You’ll learn what works, doesn’t work, and tackle stereotypes and blunders early on.
Ways to start small:
Character descriptions (physical and personality)
Third person POV
First person POV
Write a secondary Character of Color
Write a Protagonist of Color
Scene with CoC during an ordinary moment
Scene of CoC during an emotional moment
Scene of CoC facing a micro-aggression
Scene of CoC facing blatant racism or discrimination
Scene that casually shows culture (e.g. dinner, clothing, family interaction)
Scene that prominently shows culture (e.g. holiday, cultural event)
Fan Fiction (Good source of feedback if published!)
This list progresses from easier stuff to more complex means of practice. Try a variety of methods and practice as much as it takes to feel comfortable on a certain task. Exercise those diverse-writing muscles!
I’ve practiced a lot. Now what?
Research what you’re writing. If you didn’t do it before or during writing, now’s the time to research. Check out those writing guides on describing skin tone and physical features, dialect and speech, handling stereotypes, and so on. Writingwithcolor is a good starting place! Check out the WWC FAQ and explore from there.
Get feedback. Preferably from the groups you’re writing on. Again, Writingwithcolor is a resource for feedback but so are beta-readers, writing groups online and in-person, etc.
Improve your practice pieces. Don’t lament too much on perfecting it but do apply research and feedback to polish them up. Remember the relevant advice for future reference.
It’s great that you’re writing with diversity! Now that you’ve got the small stuff out of the way, pull out those big plans you kept tucked in your back pocket. You’ll stumble a lot less with all the practice you’ve already clocked in.
Colette Aburime is the founder of WritingWithColor, a writing advice blog focused on diversity. She studied creative and professional writing in college, and writes (or rather, dreams of writing) in her free time. Colette is a big fan of romance and fantasy and lives out her fairytale in a humble cottage in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. She spends happily ever after with her prince, plants, and a feisty cat. Check out WritingWithColor on Tumblr and Twitter.
Every story needs a setting, but crafting a world can take time that some of us (through no fault of our own, I’m sure) just don’t have. In this post, Municipal Liaison Rebekah Loper walks you through a worldbuilding word sprint!
If there’s one thing my local Wrimos know about me, it’s that I love worldbuilding. I’m not talking about just enjoying it, but it’s one of my hobbies, even when I’m not actively worldbuilding for a specific story. But it’s not that captivating for everyone.One aspect of writing often overlooked is that the story setting is just as important as your characters. You might even say that the setting is a character in its own right, but especially so if your stories are set in fictional worlds.While worldbuilding can be daunting, there are some tricks to help you determine which elements of worldbuilding are most important to develop for your story, and these will even apply if you’re a pantser who doesn’t know much about your plot yet.
So go grab a notebook (or open up a document!) and let’s get started.
1. Set a timer.
This is the same concept behind word sprints. If you give yourself a set time limit, you can focus right on the task at hand. Start with 10 minutes per task below, but feel free to extend that time if you find you can focus longer. Feel free to start the timer over if you need more time to finish a section, but try not to spend more than 30 minutes total before moving on to the next one.
2. Start with your main character.
This will help with any outlining you’re doing as well – who is your main character, what do they want, and why? What is important to them? What was the happiest moment of their life and/or the worst? Most importantly, how do they view themselves within their world.
3. Now that you know a little about your character, take a look at their cultural influences.
This is equally as important as your character’s internal view of themselves, because outside influences often shape those views. It’s possible to break free of them in certain situations, but most of the time they will always remain a fundamental part of who they are, whether it affects them in positive or negative ways.
What were their surroundings like growing up? What are their favorite holidays? Did they have a coming of age ceremony or ritual to complete? Were they able to do so? What societal expectations weigh on their shoulders, whether those expectations are based on gender roles, vocation, or socioeconomic status? What if they are not able to accomplish any or some of those goals?
4. What does the world look like through your character’s eyes?
Now that you’ve met your character and know some about their internal values and external influences, start taking a look at the world around them. Use the holidays, coming of age, and societal expectations that you may have explored in the previous task and branch off to explore more of the surrounding world. How have those things shaped not just your character, but the culture and society around them?
Additionally, what does their home look like? Their village, city, country? Desert, mountains, forest, coast, prairie?
As time allows, keep exploring your world as you expand its horizons. Look for the why behind a society’s actions, including access to natural resources (water, arable land, hunting grounds, etc.).
5. Now that you’ve explored your story setting and your character’s worldview, what potential for story conflict exists within your fictional world?
Conflict is what makes your story interesting. As I said earlier, your setting is just as much a character as, well, your characters. It should enrich your story and raise the stakes. Those societal expectations you’ve started to explore may clash with the expectations of differing societies and cultures, for one. Conflict is always a potential when a character goes from one culture to another. Or, conversely, they may find they fit in better in another culture, and that can generate internal conflict!
6. The rest is just aesthetics!
Seriously! While you do need to have some intentions behind why buildings, clothing, and even species might look certain ways (due to the natural resources and environment), it’s pretty much just frosting on the cake once you know the why of a society and culture. I recommend using Pinterest to collect any images that catch your interest, especially ones you just stumble on and it resonates with your world.
Any questions about worldbuilding? Just ask in the comments, and I’ll answer as soon as I can!
Rebekah lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma with her husband, a dog, two formerly feral cats, a flock of chickens, and an extensive tea collection. She is often found battling the elements in an effort to create a productive, permaculture urban homestead on a shoestring budget.
NaNoWriMo is coming up in November, so this September, we want to help you prep for the months ahead and develop your novel idea with our annual month-long #InstaWrimo challenge. We designed a month of photo prompts (both concrete and abstract) to get you thinking about characters, setting, and story. All you need to join in is an Instagram account!
Participating in our Instagram Challenge will also give you a sneak peek into this year’s theme! Can you guess what it is from the prompts? We’re officially launching our NaNo Prep activities (and our brand-new website!) the week of September 10, so you can find out more then! To join the Challenge, follow these steps:
Use the 30 photo prompts listed in the graphic above to start thinking about your novel. We’ll post the full challenge prompt on Instagram, but it will also be available in this post if you need to refer back to it.
These prompts are just suggestions—you can interpret them as literally or as whimsically as you like. You can post a photo for each of the prompts, or choose just a few. You can post one every day, or all at once. There aren’t any strict rules—the most important part is having fun!
Make sure to tag any posts with the #InstaWrimo hashtag so we can find them. We’ll pick photos from the challenge to feature on our own Instagram account throughout the month. Follow the hashtag to see what our awesome community is up to, and to get inspired. You can also tag a friend you think would like to join you in the challenge!
Use your imagination, get creative, and get ready to write!
IMG: A graphic labeled “It’s NaNo Prep Time! An #InstaWrimo challenge from @nanowrimo”, and featuring the following prompts:
1. Past/Future 2. Shelfie 3. Writing friends 4. Baby photo (future novelist) 5. Flights of fancy 6. NaNo fuel 7. If your novel were a meme 8. Come as your character 9. Oops! 10. Outline/novel sketch 11. Fur buddy 12. New nanowrimo.org profile screenshot 13. Time piece 14. Cover design 15. Plot twist! 16. Noveling music 17. Cast your main character 18. Cast your villain 19. Cast a supporting character 20. The sands of time 21. Novel dedication 22. Banned book 23. Cliffhanger 24. Living literature 25. NaNo swag 26. Paradox 27. Where/when in the world? 28. Fresh air 29. Suddenly… 30. Time to write!
I tell my students one of the most important things they need to know is when they are at their best, creatively. They need to ask themselves, What does the ideal room look like? Is there music? Is there silence? Is there chaos outside or serenity outside? What do I need in order to release my imagination?